Someone who read my article on President Barack Obama’s speech to the Ghana National Assembly on 11 July (Ghanaian Times 14 July 2009) expressed the view – in so many words – that I am living in cloud cuckoo land.
In his view, there is no way Obama can even try to change the pattern of trade relations between the developed countries and developing countries, such as Ghana.
I wrote the article before I drove on the Accra-Kumasi road (Nsawam route) and on the same road (through Koforidua.) The Koforidua route is better than the Nsawam route, but only marginally. Both need emergency rescue.
Having driven on those roads, I have to ask myself the question: Suppose Obama did what you suggested and asked the Chief Executive of Hershey to look at the possibility of adding value to Ghana cocoa, and the Chief Executive agreed to come to Ghana and have a look at the possibilities of the situation, and he said he wanted to go to Kumasi to see things for himself, what would you do?
Knowing the state of the roads, wouldn’t you try to save face by suggesting to him that instead of going by road to Kumasi, he should fly there?
So he asks you why he should fly there, and adds:
“The reason why I didn’t bring an executive jet is that the current atmosphere in the US Congress is hostile to executive jets.
This has been so since the government began to rescue banks in the wake of the credit crunch.”
What would you say? You would resort to euphemisms, of course, and say that the road is “a bit robust” and that you’d rather the CEO of Hershey didn’t travel on it.
And suppose he insisted on going by road, “because that’s the only way you can see a country for what it really is”, and you had no choice but to agree and subjected him to all that shaking of the innards that I described in my article in the Ghanaian Times of July 28, 2009, what do you think he would say to you?
I suggest he would say, “Well, there is one thing my Pa taught me about business, and that is: “’Never go into partnership with anyone who cannot take good care of his own things.
You have a road and you have allowed it to degenerate into this state and you want Hershey to come do business here? Forget it.
We don’t want to have to build our own railroad into cocoa farms before we buy cocoa from them to turn into chocolate elsewhere in the same country. Would you mind driving me to the airport please? Goodbye!”
And yet it is through such personal decision-making that a lot of the world’s business gets done.
For instance: would you be surprised if I told you that the building of the Akosombo Dam was possibly based on a series of personal interactions that began with a meeting that took place between President Dwight D. Eisenhower of the USA (President from 1983 to 1961), his deputy, Vice-President Richard M Nixon, and a Ghanaian Minister, Mr K. A. Gbedemah (Minister of Finance from 1954 to 1961)?
Mr Gbedemah was refused a glass of orange juice at a Howard Johnson’s restaurant in Dover, Delaware, in the United States in 1957 This is how Time Magazine described the incident:
QUOTE: Monday, Oct. 21, 1957
From Segregation to Breakfast
Two Negroes dressed in business suits strolled into a Howard Johnson restaurant near Dover, Del. one evening last week, went up to the counter and ordered two 30¢ glasses of orange juice.
As they were handed the juice in containers, wrapped up to take outside, a waitress explained that they could not sit down inside because “colored people are not allowed to eat in here.”
At this point one of the Negroes protested to the manager, produced an identity card to introduce himself as Komla Agbeli Gbedemah, Finance Minister of the new African nation of Ghana; his companion was his U.S. Negro secretary [Bill Sutherland].
But the manager explained that rules were rules, and [so] Gbedemah and secretary paid for their orange juice, left it on the counter and walked out.
“If the Vice President of the U.S. can have a meal in my house when he is in Ghana,” said Gbedemah, who had entertained Vice President Nixon during his tour of Africa last spring [during which he had attended the celebrations marking Ghana’s achievement of independence on March 6, 1957], “then I cannot understand why I must receive this treatment at a roadside restaurant in America.”
The U.S. Government was chagrined.
Hurriedly, the State Department put out an official apology. Wilson Flake, U.S. Ambassador to Ghana, forestalled an official protest to Washington from the Ghana government by making a public statement that this was “an exceptional and isolated incident.”
President Eisenhower invited Gbedemah to breakfast with him and Vice President Nixon at the White House, put on an Eisenhower tour of the historic White House first floor, explained frankly that “little bits like that happen all over the place and you never know when they’ll blow up or where.”
By week’s end the U.S. had not only won back but gained ground in Ghana—and in Delaware.
“I hope,” said Minister Gbedemah as he flew home, “that the people of Ghana understand that there are very few people in the U.S. who act that way.”
And the restaurant manager got word from the Howard Johnson people that he must, henceforth, serve “anybody who comes to our doors”—quite an order for segregation-minded Dover, Del. UNQUOTE
What Time Magazine didn’t know was that at the breakfast, President Eisenhower asked Gbedemah: “But what brings you to my country?”
Whereupon Gbedemah informed the US President that his new country wanted to create industries – and was focusing on an aluminium-smelting industry that would make use of locally-mined bauxite — and that the project needed vast quantities of electric power.
Ghana had drawn up plans to build a dam to use the waters of its largest river, the Volta, to generate enough electricity to enable the project to work, Gbedemah explained. But it needed to ensure that the aluminium would be bought and so make the project self-financing.
Ghana also needed loans from the World Bank to help defray the initial costs of the project.
That was why he had come to the US to talk to investors to see whether he could interest any of them in the project.
The rest, as they say, is history.
The project became officially known to the US Government and in the next few years, a series of personal contacts between American industrialists and politicians took shape, among whose leading actors were EdgarKaiser and Chad Kalhoun of Kaiser Industries, Douglas Dillon, President Kennedy’s Secretary of the Treasury, Sir Robert Jackson of the Volta River Commission and his wife, Barbara Ward, who knew President Kennedy personally.
It was only through these personal contacts that economic and political doubts, not only about the feasibility of the dam but Ghana’s political leanings under President Kwame Nkrumah, generally, were dispelled and the project successfully went ahead.
Similarly, those in the present Government who have been provided with the most vital element in political life – access — to some members of the Obama administration, must develop those contacts, formulate clear economic goal and use such access as they might be allowed, to push those goals and advance the economic development of Ghana.
There is no sense in going to the USA and asking for assistance generally.
Ministers and officials must focus on priority programmes if they want to obtain help.
And they must show the Americans that they are serious.
No American administration would waste its time on people who do not even know that their arterial roads must be kept motorable at all times.
They would ignore Ghana even if the head of that administration was born in Ghana!